Kathyrn Minshew On The Qualities Entrepreneurs Need To Be Successful

Kathryn Minshew is the CEO & Founder of TheMuse.com, a career platform used by over 50 million millennials to navigate their careers, and by hundreds of companies looking to attract, hire and retain great talent. She’s also the author of “The New Rules of Work,” a Wall Street Journal national bestseller, and an Operating Partner at XFactor Ventures, a venture capital fund investing in the next generation of female founders.

Kathryn has spoken at MIT and Harvard, contributed to the WSJ and HBR, and appeared on TODAY and CNN. We had a chance to sit down with Kathryn before WORLDZ 2018, and she gave us some amazing tips for someone looking for their next job, how to approach your boss about a promotion, and the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs to be successful.

What are the three most important tips you would give to someone looking for their next job?

First, I’d ask you to look beyond job requirements and consider your values. What matters most to you in this next role? This could be the kind of company you want—corporate office, fast-paced startup, or non-profit—or the kind of manager you want to report to. Also ask yourself, what type of work provides you with a sense of meaning and purpose? It’s not just about being qualified to do a job, it’s about being excited to do that job every day.

Use your network. You can absolutely get a job just by submitting your application through job boards, but sending your application through a personal reference gives you an edge over the competition because you have someone vouching for you. Spend time reaching out to your current network, and even cold-messaging people at companies you’d want to work at or in roles you’d want to work in. You might just get an e-introduction or an informational interview.  

Always tailor your application. It takes work, but this process is about quality over quantity. Rather than using the same resume and cover letter for every job that looks even remotely interesting, really take the time to research companies you’d love to work for. Then pick the ones you’re most interested in and use your application to demonstrate why you’re the best fit for the role they’re offering.

What’s the best approach when beginning the conversation with your boss about a promotion?

Plan ahead! Before you even start the conversation with your boss, take the time to do your homework: Make a list of your biggest wins and accomplishments that produced quantifiable results and use those as talking points to prove your worth. The idea is to show your boss that you not only deserve a promotion but that you’ve earned it and are capable of handling more responsibilities.

While it may not come up in the initial conversation, be prepared to talk about your salary, too. Do some research to get a sense what people in your role and industry are making. Compensation usually depends on a number of factors, so be sure to take things like years of experience, specialized skills or degrees, and geographic location into consideration. Then, when it’s time to negotiate, you’ll have all the data you need to ask for an increase.

Also, don’t be afraid to take notes into your meeting. These types of discussions can be really nerve-wracking and having your argument laid out in front of you can help take some of the pressure off.

What are some of the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs to be successful?

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was starting The Muse was that everything worth doing requires persistence. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy—and when you have a big idea that you’re trying to get off the ground, you’re bound to hit roadblocks and experience setbacks along the way. So, while it might sound a little cliché, you have to be prepared to power through the hard times. I find it’s especially helpful to have a community of other entrepreneurs who “get it” to help motivate you when the going gets tough.

Another thing: It’s almost impossible to know for certain whether or not your idea is good enough when you’re just starting out, so I found it helpful to focus on our users and the data. This was especially important because we heard a lot of critical feedback from early investors we approached; in fact, when we were first raising capital, we were told “no” 148 times! I truly believed that The Muse was something that needed to exist, but it was hard to have so many people tell us our idea wasn’t feasible. Still, we had users who were telling us how much they loved what we were doing—that was a huge motivator to not give up. Make sure you’re listening to your audience and actively soliciting their feedback. If they can’t stop using your product and are telling you you’re onto something, it’s much more likely that you are.

What advice would you give to someone looking to change careers or break into a new field?

This can be a tough one, but don’t discount the experience and skills you already have because you may be more qualified than you think. Take a look at your background and experiences, and focus on highlighting any transferable skills, which can benefit you across a variety of industries and roles. For example, listening and communication, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity, leadership, or accountability. Where can you draw a line from the skills required to excel at your past roles to the skills necessary in the new career you’re looking at? As long as you can provide examples of how you’ve used these skills in a previous role to produce tangible results, it isn’t always a deal-breaker to not meet every requirement listed in a job description—and it shouldn’t keep you from being able to make a career change.

You’ve spoken about prioritizing company culture when hiring – how do you identify if someone is going to be a good fit?

The first step in being able to properly assess whether a candidate will be the right fit for your team is to have a clear understanding of your own values. This is something we prioritized very early on with The Muse—literally, we sat down with our small team of 20 people and talked about our existing culture and what we were looking for in new hires. It’s how we came up with our core team motivators and behaviors like our “no assholes” policy (which is our way of saying we treat everyone with respect and integrity). Then, we made sure everyone at The Muse, especially our talent team and any employees who would be part of the interview process, knew how to talk about our mission, brand, and culture.

In terms of the actual hiring process, it’s important to make sure you’re getting multiple, diverse perspectives. At The Muse, each interviewer is responsible for honing in on a particular value, and our people team meets with everyone to make sure they’re clear on how to ask the right questions and assess the right things.

Finally, it’s important that assessing candidates for values fit doesn’t become a smokescreen for maintaining a homogeneous culture. Diversity is critically important, so be thoughtful about ensuring that your fit/alignment questions focus on values and core behaviors, not fuzzy questions around “would you want to grab a beer with this person?”

Any advice you would give to women who feel they are held to a different standard than their male coworkers?

This happens, and it can be infuriating – there is a lot of research that still demonstrates unintentional bias, and how many people unintentionally hold others to different standards because of gender. If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do.

First, know you’re not alone—and build a support system to prove it. Having a group of women, both at work and outside of work, who can relate to what you’re going through because they share your experiences can be really empowering. It’s not fair that women are held to different standards than men but, at the very least, it helps to be able to share your experiences with others and lift each other up.

I also love the trick women in the White House use to stop getting interrupted in meetings because it’s so simple, yet so impactful. When one woman says something significant, other women repeat it and give credit to the woman who originally said it. (We wrote more about this on The Muse here.)

The Muse is incredibly dynamic – is there a function that you think users overlook? What’s the best way to get the most out of the website?

We’re really focused on giving candidates the information they need to find the right fit for them—because every person is looking for something different. It’s not up to us to decide whether a company is the best or the worst, so rather than label companies as “good” or “bad,” we offer an authentic look inside an organization. We’ve always done this with our company profiles featuring photos and employee testimonials, but we’ve recently been working with our clients to source and create additional content from their employees themselves.

Also, The Muse is not just for finding a job—you can use it to grow in your career, too. If you’re a new manager or don’t know how to deal with an awkward work situation, our advice can help there too! We work hard to help people navigate their career in full, not just when they’re changing roles or companies.

We love The New Rules of Work – can you give us the titles of some other books you have found valuable or inspiring?

Ooh, I love this one – I’m a big reader and always looking for great books. A few of my favorite business/nonfiction books are:

  • Start With Why, Simon Sinek
  • Radical Candor, Kim Scott
  • High Growth Handbook, Elad Gil
  • Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

For fiction, I recently read and adored “The Power” by Naomi Alderman.

What are your plans for The Muse moving forward? How do you envision the website’s future?

We’re building the go-to-destination for people to research everything they need to know about companies and careers—and that means going above and beyond what legacy job boards and review sites have to offer. Looking forward, our mission will always be to help people craft rewarding careers, we’ll just keep building on how we do that.